THE PLAYERS in the Flyers' locker room understand that league discipline czar Brendan Shanahan has a difficult job. Some called it impossible. Shanahan's task is to dole out supplemental punishment that will deter players from trying to kill one another out there. Some of his rulings have prompted more answers than questions.
In the first week of the playoffs, Shanahan handed out eight suspensions, including two to Pittsburgh for violations against the Flyers in the first round. He probably could have, and should have, given out more.
Nashville's Shea Weber, for instance, tried to smash Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg's face through the glass at the end of an opening-round game and received only a fine. That decision sent a wave of uncertainty throughout NHL dressing rooms. It probably didn't help matters that the Predators won the series in five games.
Shanahan had a hearing on Monday with Flyers star Claude Giroux a day after Giroux's hit on Dainius Zubrus in Sunday's Game 4. Giroux delivered a shoulder to the head of Zubrus long after the puck was gone from Zubrus' stick. Giroux was not happy with the one-game suspension Shanahan handed down.
"It's hard to say what's a suspension or not," Giroux said before Tuesday's Game 5. "Obviously, I hit his head with my shoulder, but I didn't jump, my elbow was down, and it wasn't my intention to hit his head. Obviously, it's disappointing that I [couldn't] get on the ice and help the guys win. All I can do is focus on [a possible] Game 6."
That won't be necessary. The Devils beat the Flyers again, 3-1, and took the series in five games.
Shanahan said Giroux was "reckless" on the play and violated the rules with an illegal check to the head. Headhunting and the resulting concussions are nothing new to the NHL, which surely sees the mounting litigation and other toxic fallout engulfing the NFL.
"I think he did get him in the head there," Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. "I don't think that was his intent. G's not a dirty player. He plays the game honestly. Things just happen out there. They saw the shoulder contacted the head, and you expect a suspension there."
Giroux's hit might not have been intentional, but it was to the head. Shanahan's mistake isn't that he suspended Giroux. It's that he probably should have suspended Weber, or Pittsburgh's James Neal longer than the one game Neal got for a pair of questionable hits in the first round. Washington's Alex Ovechkin left his feet to deliver a hit to the jaw of the Rangers' Dan Girardi on Saturday, but was not suspended.
Phoenix's Raffi Torres, a notorious repeat offender, hammered Chicago's Marian Hossa with a midice hit and got 25 games.
"Everything's been so all over the map with that kind of stuff, you don't really know what to expect," James van Riemsdyk said. "I can't really say if I was or I wasn't [expecting Giroux to be suspended], because everything's kind of been so sporadic with all that."
Giroux said he had never been suspended at any level of hockey, which Shanahan said worked in his favor. Or did it?
"I didn't think I was going to get suspended, to be honest," Giroux, the Flyers' MVP this season, said before Tuesday's game. "They want to get [hits] to the head out of the game, and I respect that. But there's nothing I can do about it now. I obviously can't play tonight, and it's frustrating. I really don't know what else to say. Obviously, I'd love to play. I don't know what else to say."
Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds jokingly took credit for his former team flying through the Western Conference's first two rounds. Simmonds and Brayden Schenn were part of the package that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles, which is 8-1 in the postseason and in the conference finals for the first time since 1993.
"I guess me and [Schenn] were the bad apples there," Simmonds said, laughing. "They got hot at the right time, I guess. That's what matters."